By Masque

Gabrielle’s Thread

The forest was the most lush and peaceful that the bard had ever seen, even she would never be able to do the scene justice with words. As she walked with Artemis she gazed around at the paradise she had been brought to, the trees, the flowers, the animals; she could not help wondering whether the surrounding area was enhanced and even protected by the Goddess. For the first time since she had ‘technically’ died she felt at ease. She was walking in the open, she was self-conscious in the blue dress, sorely missing her staff, but with her hand clasped firmly in that of the warriors - a brunette warrior at that - not Xena, but she still felt safe.

The woodland gave way to a clearing and revealed Artemis’s hunting lodge. The lodge itself rivaled anything that could have been built by any of the Amazons, including the Queen’s hut, but then Artemis was the Goddess of the female warriors. It did not surprise Gabrielle when she discovered that Artemis had posted Amazon guards at the entrance. On closer inspection of the two woman stood on either side of the huge wooden doors she realised that she knew the two of them and she began to smile, “Is that...?”

“Melosa and Terreis? Yes. One with the power of ideas and one with the power to make them happen. They are my own personal guards and they will take care of any of your needs while you are here. They’ve been waiting for you.”

As the Goddess and the bard approached the cabin the two Amazon moved towards them. Gabrielle had barely reached the top step when Terreis pulled her into a fierce hug. “Just couldn’t stop risking yourself for other people could you.” Terreis teased as she held Gabrielle tightly.

“No she couldn’t, she is a true Amazon and a perfect successor to both of us.” Melosa agreed.

Terreis released Gabrielle into her older sisters embrace, after a moment Melosa drew back to look at how much Gabrielle had grown since they had last seen one another. “It is good to see you Gabrielle, I wish the circumstances could have been different.”

“You and me both. But I guess our daughters had other plans.” Gabrielle said as sarcastically as she could but everybody heard the underlying regret in her words. “When Ephiny told me what Velasca had done I knew I had to honour your memory.”

Both Amazons stiffened at the mention of the renegade Amazons name, Melosa shot a sideways glance at Artemis who stood with her lips pursed and fists clenched.

“I guess that’s not a name you say around here, ”Gabrielle hazarded, “She’s not around, is she?” Gabrielle darted looks around her in case the self-proclaimed Goddess of Chaos had broken free from her imprisonment and still held a grudge against Gabrielle.

“No.” Artemis announced a slight smile creeping onto her face, “She will not be bothering you, or anyone else for that matter, for quite a while,” The smile was now a self-satisfied smirk, “That’s what she gets for destroying one of my temples and thinking she could equal me.” Artemis seemed to return to the present, “Melosa have chambers prepared for our guest, Terreis get her something to eat, I’m sure she’s hungry.” Artemis smiled fondly at the young woman, even on Olympus she had heard of the bards legendary appetite.

Gabrielle’s mouth watered at the prospect of food, but she had a nagging suspicion in her head, “I can eat?”

“This is not the Underworld Gabrielle, and you’re not completely dead, you will not be imprisoned for eating,” Artemis explained, “but stay away from the Ambrosia.”

The two Amazon guards led the way into the lodge, Artemis and Gabrielle followed, the younger woman lost in her thoughts. Ambrosia had brought Xena back to life when she had not been completely dead, could the same work for her?

“Don’t even think about it Gabrielle,” Artemis answered her thoughts, “Xena’s fate was in her own hands then, her own choice. Your fate currently rests in the hands of the Gods, our choice. A Judgement is the only way that your fate can be decided. We will be fare, but do not try to trick us.”

With that Gabrielle realised that Ambrosia was out of the question, and that her fate rested in the hands of twelve Gods and Goddesses, who she had almost destroyed. She had had dealings with some of them before and she was expected to believe that they would play fare.

*           *            *

Callisto’s Thread

The first thing that she was aware of was the stinging sensation of a slap across her left cheek, which almost smashed the bone and dislocated the jaw. She worked her jaw to be certain that she had not sustained those very two injuries, “You’ll have to do better than that.” Callisto goaded her attacker, her eyes remained closed, she was oblivious to who she spoke.

The second slap came across the right cheek and she instantly tasted blood foaming in her mouth. This unfamiliar and unsuspected reaction from her body caused rage to course through her, she lifted her head and opened her eyes hissing at her attacker. Callisto did not recognise the woman with the wild white hair and dark eyes, but the red rags wrapped about her body were a give away. She fought vainly against her bonds that chained her to the wall and tried to lash out at the Fury.

“You’ll have to do better than that.” Alecto jeered at her.

Callisto spat the blood from her bleeding gum and lips into the woman’s face. A mistake. Alecto reached out and gripped Callisto around the throat and lifted her completely off the ground. As the former Goddess gasped for air around her restricted wide pipe she saw the blood hiss upon Alecto’s skin until it was gone, “If I were you I would start showing the Furies the respect that we deserve.” Alecto dropped Callisto releasing her vice like grip from her throat, a slight wave of her hand and the shackles were released as well.

Callisto’s legs buckled for a brief moment but she quickly regained her balance; she glared at the retreating back of the Fury, it would be so easy to just....

“Give it you best shot.” Alecto spun around, holding her arms out to make herself a target for Callisto’s rage, “You are no longer a Goddess Callisto,” she once again approached her prisoner and placed a finger on Callisto’s forehead and traced it along the scar to the opposite cheek, “That should be abundantly clear.”

Callisto put her hands to her face and found the old scar and acknowledged the tautness of skin that such a scar would bring, something she had not felt as an immortal or Goddess. Suddenly she realised that she no longer felt the surge of the powers either.

“You have a question.” Alecto announced.

Callisto thought about not asking it, but decided that she had nothing to lose, “I asked for Oblivion.”

“And here you are.” Alecto gestured to the chamber, a chamber with no visible entrance. “Oblivion is a little place that my sisters and I created for Gods who were stupid enough to get themselves killed.” Alecto watched the disgust that crossed Callisto’s face at this new found knowledge, a gesture made even more venomous by the scar. “Next time I would advise being careful what you ask for. Just so that you know, your neighbours are Strife and Velasca,” she indicated to either side of the chamber, “and neither one is very happy with you.” Alecto left the comment hanging and was about to leave.

“If you have stripped me of my godhood then you must be more powerful than the Gods themselves.” Callisto mused out loud hoping that Alecto would take the challenge.

Alecto grinned widely at the comment, “We are more powerful than you will ever know, more powerful than you will ever want to know.”

“Then you can do something for me.” Callisto hoped Alecto had a bigger ego than Ares.

“And what might that be?” Alecto asked, curious, and surprised that Callisto had the audacity to ask in the first place.

“I want to see Xena.” Callisto demanded.

“Impossible.” Alecto scolded.

“Nothing should be impossible for you.” Callisto pointed out.

“You are dead Callisto, you cannot appear in the mortal world, the living cannot see you.” Alecto explained as though she was talking to a stubborn child, that was not too far from the truth.

“But you could make her see me, there has to be a way.” The Fury seemed to be contemplating the idea, Callisto had to push just a little further, “I just want to talk to her, I need to straighten a few things out with her.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Alecto vanished in a blue glow.

Callisto looked around. There was no way to get in or out of the cell unless you had godly powers, but then she was dead, where would she go anyway?

*           *            *

Xena’s and Callisto’s Threads

The sleep she had fallen into was much needed but far from restful. Inevitably her subconscious had conjured up the images of those final moments - the last she had shared with Gabrielle. In the dreams the screams of Gabrielle’s death echoed all around her, suffocating all other sounds, and now she could hear Gabrielle cursing her for her failure. Xena sank to her knees at the chasms edge, whispering into the flames, “I’m sorry, please forgive me....”

“I’m sorry,” Xena screamed as she awoke. A cold slick layer of perspiration covering her flesh and the blanket tangled around her limbs and body. “I’m sorry,” she said again, her breathing ragged as it caught in her throat.

She gripped her head as the pain caught up with the rest of her body; forcefully she ran her fingers through her hair pushing it out of her eyes to look around the twilight filled room. In the half darkness she only just saw the figure sitting in the corner of the room - Callisto.

Xena’s body had no strength to challenge the previous Goddess, and Callisto did not appear as though she was looking for a fight, besides Xena was convinced that she had killed the blonde warrior, So what is she doing here?

“I don’t want to fight, I just wanted to see you.” Callisto stood from the chair she had been perched on and moved across the room with cat-like grace.

How had she known what I was thinking?

“Because I’m inside that tortured prison that you call a mind.” Callisto moved closer to Xena and lowered her head to look at the weary eyes, the haggard face. Lifting her hand she prodded at the injury on the side of Xena’s head and delighted when Xena flinched.

“But I killed you.” Xena batted Callisto’s hand away and began to eye the blonde woman with suspicion.

“Yes I know,” Callisto shrugged her shoulders, “When has that ever stopped me before?” She rubbed her temples with the heels of her hands and continued with a frustrated tone, “The least you could do is hear what I have to say.”

“There’s nothing you can say that will take the pain away.” Xena spat at her.

Callisto’s eyes shone bright with hatred, “Pain. Pain. You want to know about pain. Pain is when you watch everything you love, everything you believe in destroyed before your eyes; and then the pain is all there is, it drives you, it controls you. You did that to me Xena, you did.” The intense glare in Callisto’s eyes softened somewhat, taking an understanding view of the warrior princess, “You do know what that pain is like. I never knew she was that important.”

The two warriors stared at each other through the growing twilight until finally Callisto broke away. She began to pace around the room, feeling like a caged cat, she had never liked being confined. Two hands gripped her hair and yanked occasionally at the white blonde locks. “I’m not about to forgive you Xena, you killed me just when I found I had a reason for living, but you wouldn’t listen to me, too hung up on your own selfish feelings, it’s always Xena, Xena, Xena.”

“Gabrielle had just died you heartless bitch.” Xena hissed.

“Uh-uh,” Callisto shot Xena a look as she wagged her figure in the dark warriors direction, “I’m the one doing the talking.” Her hands had fallen to her sides but her fingers never stopped moving, “What would you say if I told you that when Gabrielle sacrificed herself I finally realised what she had been trying to tell me?”

“I’d say you were lying.” Xena said with all the sarcasm she could muster.

Callisto clasped and unclasped her hands continually pulling at her fingers. “No not completely. I’m sorry the irritating brat died, I kinda found her.... intriguing. I couldn’t work out why she loved you and hated me when we were essentially the same.”

“She helped me find redemption, something you could never hope to glimpse.” Xena interjected.

“Well I’ll never have the chance now, will I?” When Callisto turned to look at Xena this time there were shafts of moonlight beginning to filter through the window and Callisto realised for the first time that Xena was completely naked. She looked the body up and down with an appraising look. “I didn’t come her to argue with you.”

The look did not go unnoticed by Xena. She was not self-conscious of her body in the slightest but she had not known that she was naked until Callisto had looked at her. “That would make a change.”

“Don’t make this more difficult than it already is Xena,” Callisto’s voice held a note of warning, “I just wanted to say thank you. I asked you to kill me and you did, you seemed the obvious choice since it was you who butchered my family.”

Xena allowed the usual taunting about the past to slide by considering what Callisto had just said.

“I would have told you sooner, but I was too busy dying.” Callisto leaned over until their faces were barely inches apart and their gazes were locked. “Thank you Xena.”

Xena had only just registered the shock of the apology when she was registering the shock of Callisto’s lips pressed against her own. Her eyes closed briefly at the sensation and when they re-opened to object to the invasion of her personal space Callisto was gone and the room was empty in the twilight once again.

Her mind awoke for the second time, but this time there was no scream of anguish, instead there was a snarl of disgust mixed with a dark desire for the woman who had disappeared.

*           *            *

Callisto’s Thread

As her mind returned to the confines of the cell in Oblivion Callisto raised her head, opening her eyes she ran her tongue over her lips which still held the sensation of Xena upon them. She had, of course, never actually left the cell, her mind had been placed inside the Warrior Princesses causing her to appear as an hallucination. The conductors of this scheme stood before her; all three of the Furies had taken part in the manipulation of the plan and now they released the power that it had taken.

Lifting a hand Alecto indicated that her two sisters were dismissed, a blue glow filled the room and then they were gone. Alecto strode across the room to where Callisto sat cross-legged and traced a slender index finger along Callisto’s jaw, “Why did you want to see the Warrior Princess?”

“She made me and only she can destroy me.” Callisto explained simply.

“That’s where you are wrong.” The Fury held an amused expression in her eyes.

“Xena killed my family and made me the monster I am. She gave me the fury to avenge their deaths. Only her blood could stop the anger, the hate.” Callisto reaffirmed her driven purpose in life.

“Xena sparked that fire, but I was the one who fueled it. She didn’t make you who you are, I did.” Alecto enjoyed the amused expression that was beginning to creep across Callisto’s childlike features. “Who do you think gave you the anger, the hate? Who do you think punished you with the madness that forced you to avenge your family’s death? Only the Furies can give you that drive, and only the Furies can liberate you from the madness.”

Callisto ran her tongue over her lips once more, searching for Xena - her focus - but the feeling was not strong enough and slipping away far to quickly.

“What's the matter Callisto?” Alecto gripped the woman’s chin and forced her to look up, searching the deep brown eyes for the haunted look of anguish, “Finding the truth a little difficult?”

Callisto lunged towards the Fury, arms out to grasp the slender throat, “You’re lying.”

Alecto deflected Callisto's hands and caught hold of a handful of hair jerking Callisto's head backwards. Callisto was on her knees now with Alecto towering over her, “You dare to call me a liar.” Alecto lowered her face and her voice to her a whisper, “What would you have done once you had killed her? Search for redemption? Admit it Callisto, deep down you didn't want to kill her because you know that she is not the answer. Don't you?” She jerked Callisto’s head hard, “Don't you?”

“Yes.” Callisto gasped. She was unused to being at anyone’s mercy, not Xena, not Ares, but this woman had rendered her completely helpless.

“Do you want Oblivion Callisto, do you want redemption?” Alecto tightened her grip causing pain to jolt through Callisto’s body.

Callisto tried to withstand the pain, the pressure that Alecto was subjecting her to. But she knew Alecto was right; deep down she knew that Alecto was the answer.

“That's right Callisto, I’m the key. The key to your pain, your torture, your release. If you want it all to stop I can make it happen.” Alecto's gaze bore into Callisto waiting her answer.

“Please.” Callisto uttered in barely more than a whisper; she could allow no more than that, knowing that she was submitting.

Alecto released her hold, dropping Callisto into a heap on the floor, “I ask but one favour in return,” She waited until she had Callisto's full attention, “You will be taken to Mount Olympus where you will testify in the Judgement of precious, little Gabrielle.”

“I will not.” Callisto barked as she forced herself to stand face to face with Alecto.

“You will, or you will pay the consequences.” The Fury smirked at the possible punishments she could inflict. “It would be easier on all involved if you just agreed. Who knows, you might find some redemption along the way.”

“Who cares?” Callisto replied dismissively.

“You do not have a choice Callisto. I will come for you when it is time.” With the smile still firmly fixed on her lips she disappeared, leaving Callisto alone to ponder on her sham of a life and her suffering in death.

*           *            *

Xena’s Thread

Hercules burst through the door and it slammed behind him and he was on the bed beside Xena before the growl had finished on her lips. Cautiously he reached out, passed her flailing arms and pulled her to him, letting her take all the comfort she needed, “Xena it’s okay, I'm here, we’re all here,” He soothed.

Xena burrowed deeper into his embrace where she felt protected.

For a moment Hercules was surprised by her affection seeking act and the fact that she was naked; then he reminded himself that she had just lost her best friend and probably did not care about her state of dress - or lack there of.

Minutes passed and neither one made any move to finish the intimate exchange. Xena found herself wrapping her arms around his body with her fingers tracing the contours of the muscles along his bare back; while Hercules found himself absently stroking her long black hair. When it finally dawned on them how dangerous the prolonged contact was they began to ease away from one another. It was then that they saw the look in each others eyes; where Xena’s had been clouded with anguish and Hercules’ had been filled with concern, they both mirrored the same thing - desire.

Had they really been able to fool themselves and each other so easily? It had been a few years since they had been together as lovers, having suppressed their desires for the sake of their friendship. They both knew the profound effect they had on one another. Xena had been the first woman that Hercules had allowed himself to love after the death of his wife Deineira. Hercules had been the only man who had been able to withstand her aggressive nature, had she not told him that he had unchained her heart?

Without thinking she began to extend a hand to the side of his face, Hercules quickly grasped the hand in his own and gently pushed it away but kept hold of it. Her other hand instinctively began the same act and again Hercules caught it but met with more resistance this time. With no way to hold her back she leaned forward, “I need you,” she whispered as she shifted closer and pressed her lips to his.

The kiss was quickly mounting in intensity, with Xena becoming more forceful and Hercules surrendering to the passion he felt for the warrior. Sensing the surrender Xena pushed forward forcing Hercules back on the bed, a quick movement of her hands and she grasped his gauntlets, pinning his arms to the mattress.

He knew he should stop her, for a hundred reasons: she was not thinking clearly, they would both regret it later, it would blur the boundaries they had drawn for themselves; but the single reason as to why they should kept him going: it felt so right.

How long had it been since they had been together? How much had he missed it? And now as her body was pressed against his, her lips on his and her finger tips gently trailing along his bare arms he did not want to say no.

When her fingers reached his shoulders she pushed away, looking down at him she smiled slyly then arced a leg over his hips to straddle his body. Xena had no idea how or when she had lost her restraint, but while Hercules was this close and this responsive to her she could not help herself. Every time this man came into her life her emotions went into turmoil. She had kept desire, passion and lust under control for so long and right now she was damned if she would let another person that she loved die without showing them how she felt.

Hercules ran his hands along the muscled thighs that rested on either side of his hips and breathed deeply as Xena’s fingers began the agonizing trail down his chest and torso. All the while their eyes were locked on one another. When her fingers reached the waistband of his trousers she leaned down, brushing her lips against his, as she deftly unfastened the buckle and began work on the laces. It was only when her hands made contact with the sensitive flesh beneath that Hercules came back to reality with a crash. He grasped both on her hands and pulled them away before it got to the stage where he could not say no. “This is a bad idea.” He said as he tore his lips away from hers and tried to get out from underneath her.

“It wasn’t such a bad idea a few years ago.” She smiled seductively and tried to push him back to the bed.

Hercules rolled their bodies to finish with him on top of Xena, “Things change.” He said as he tried to climb off of her and the bed.

She slung her arms around his neck, “They don't have to,” She pulled him down for another kiss, "I need you," She whispered against his mouth.

He took the arms from around his neck and held them down against the bed, “You need someone Xena, but it’s not me.” He managed to get away from her and stand up. He fumbled with the laces on his trousers, trying to do them up as fast as possible. When he looked back to where she lay, an expression of hurt in her eyes he could only think of one thing to say, “I’ll get Ephiny to take care of that.” He said indicating to the side of her head and the unattended wound. With his trousers fastened he left the room.

For a moment Xena lay on the bed unable to move with the shock of what she had just done, what she had been going to do. Slowly she drew the blanket tightly around her naked body, the regret flowing through her, “Please don’t leave me too,” She whispered after him.

*           *            *

Continued in Part 5